Students on Woodbridge High School’s Decathlon team are celebrating the school’s sixth Orange County Academic Decathlon title in seven years. Now, the Irvine-based decathlon team will look to outperform other Division 1 schools at the California Academic Decathlon in Santa Clara in March.

Having claimed previous California Academic Decathlon titles in Division 2, and Division 3, the Woodbridge team is searching to claim its first Division 1 title. Last year, Woodbridge finished in third place overall.   

Mike Nakaue, head coach of Woodbridge High School’s Academic Decathlon Team spoke with Irvine Weekly about the team’s most recent title, and how the team’s “never enough” attitude is shaping its outstanding performance.  

“Once you establish tradition, the legacy keeps going. We just make sure the kids know that there’s responsibility put on them to perform, not just for themselves, but the school and all the alumni that have come through the program,” he explained. “It’s really comprehensive – it really stretches the students. They have to be well-rounded by the end of the competition.”

In terms of competition, students participate in multiple choice competitions covering the topics of art, language and literature, economics, mathematics, music, science, and social science.   

Other forms of competition include speech and interview, along with the highly popularized Super Quiz Relay competition. Hosted in front of a live audience of parents and other decathlon teams, the Super Quiz Relay competition is a fast-paced collaborative team event.

In its most recent championship, Woodbridge scored a total of 45,208.8 points. For comparison, Valencia High, Orange County’s second place winner scored 40,241.7 points. 

As a coach, Nakaue’s goal is to educate.  

“These are the things I teach them – humility goes a long way. No matter what happens — winning or losing — you’re going to be good sports about it,” he said. “We make no excuses, we just do the very best we can.”     

While Woodbridge decathletes have earned bragging rights, Nakaue also noted that students were compensated monetarily for their individual victories. 

“Orange County gives out the most money when it comes to these competitions. My kids won $7,100. On top of that, our team got a $4,000 travel stipend for coming in first place,” he said. “I had 12 students there — 11 of the 12 received some sort of monetary prize. If you come in first place individually you get $1,000 — that’s a lot for a high school kid.”  

Now retired, Nakaue is a former science teacher at Woodbridge High School, and has been involved with the Woodbridge Decathlon Team for 27 years. He admitted that there are semi-rigorous demands placed on decathletes, adding that training and preparation for winter completions begins in the summer.  

“We start our program in June to get ready for the February county completion,” he explained. “We explain to them what the program entails and what the commitment level is going to be. GPA’s are slotted out, and then they have to compete for a spot.”

With a roster of nine decathletes per team, decathletes are grouped in threes by GPA – Honors decathletes (GPA 3.8-4.0), Scholastic decathletes (GPA 3.2-3.79), and Varsity decathletes (GPA 0.0-3.19), per the rules listed on the Orange County Department of Education website. 

In a statement congratulating the Woodbridge Decathlon Team, Kristin Rigby, Orange County Department of Education Coordinator, said the Academic Decathlon provides a great outlet for kids to showcase their passion for academics. Rigby added that she hopes to see competition at the Decathlon continues to inspire students. 

“The Academic Decathlon is an opportunity for students to showcase their knowledge and skills across a wide range of academic subjects, from art and literature to economics and science,” she said. “We are proud to see the high level of participation and competitiveness in this year’s decathlon, and we offer our congratulations to Woodbridge High School on their victory.”

Speaking on the transformation of his students, Nakaue explained that while many students enter this journey blindly, they often mold lasting relationships with one another.     

“Not just this year, but every year – a lot of them really don’t know each other, but they begin to bond. You instill the idea that this is a team – that everyone has to contribute to the team and support each other, help each other along the way, because you have different levels of students there,” Nakaue explained. “A lot of the alumni become [academic decathlon] judges – they just keep supporting the county and state program.”

As the California Academic Decathlon approaches, Nakaue said his main focus is ensuring his students are engaged.  

“I wouldn’t say they’re overly confident, but they know that they can maybe be in the top five in the state this year, going into competition.”

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